The one question that I hear the most from clients is this: “How do I know whether I’m on the right path for me?”
The problem with this question is that it presupposes that there is a singular “right” path for all of us and all other ways are somehow “wrong” for us.
That presupposition creates a tremendous amount of pressure to find the one perfect thing that will lead us to happiness. It makes decision-making difficult because we fear making the wrong decision. And it takes out the fun of being curious and exploring new and exciting options.
This is similar to the thought that there is one single “soul mate” for every person on the planet. The truth is, you could be happy with any number of partners on the planet. When you find someone whom you really like and trust and who really likes and trusts you back, that’s a good match. The same concept applies in our careers: we can find any number of careers that we enjoy, find meaningful, and have the skills to do.
For these reasons, I recommend that clients drop the “is this the right path for me?” question and ask a different question instead:
“Am I doing something that will lead me to make a contribution in a way that I find both enjoyable and meaningful?”
If the answer is yes, then keep going! You’re enjoying the work and also solving a problem that you find meaningful or purposeful. That’s work worth doing.
Getting To the Root Of The Problem
If the answer is no, stop and figure out what’s not working for you.
Is it that you don’t enjoy the work? That’s reason enough to find something different. We don’t have to love every minute of every day at work, but if you want to find fulfilling work, your level of enjoyment, engagement, and enthusiasm is key.
If you used to enjoy the work but no longer do, try to figure out the true cause.
Sometimes people evolve and need to move on to different work. In his excellent book The Great Work Of Your Life, Stephen Cope recounts several stories of people making mid-career transitions or finding encore careers, which can be part of the normal growth process. This is something to be embraced.
But if you no longer enjoy your work because you don’t like your current role or don’t feel challenged anymore, you might not need a complete career overhaul. You might just need to take on new or different responsibilities or shift your work back to your particular zone of genius, i.e., the work that makes you feel energized and engaged.
If you enjoy the work but you’re worried the problem you’re solving isn’t important enough or compelling enough, ask yourself why.
If you don’t find it compelling enough because there is other work that you’d rather be doing instead, then by all means, make the switch! It will never feel like exactly the right time, but if you start taking action now to move you in that direction, you will thank yourself later for having the courage to try something new.
But if you’re worried that it’s not “important” enough because of some external measurement of importance or because you’re afraid of what others might think, it’s worth looking at whether that concern is valid.
I sometimes hear from clients who would like to do more creative work wonder whether it is “important” enough in the world when there are so many other problems, like injustice, poverty, and disease to battle. But that thought wholly disregards the critical role that creativity and beauty have on uplifting the human spirit. It can help to reframe your thinking about the work. For example, you could decide to think: “There are many different ways to do important and meaningful work, including uplifting and inspiring others.”
Not everyone will share that thought, but you can decide that that’s okay. They don’t have to agree with you. Their opinions don’t determine whether it’s true for you or not: the only person who gets to decide that is you.
Don’t Expect Your Work To Make You Happy
Just like it’s a bad idea to rely on other people in your life to bring you happiness, it’s also a bad idea to expect your career to “make” you happy. Your happiness has to come from within—from you.
You can have your dream job and still not be happy if you’re constantly thinking about what’s wrong with you, the world, or the people around you.
That’s because happiness is an emotion that, like all emotions, comes from our thoughts. If you’re not managing your thinking and your brain is looping in a negative thought pattern, you’re not going to feel good and you may mistakenly believe that it’s your job’s fault.
This is why I always recommend that my clients work on managing their thinking and cultivate their own happiness where they are, before they make a big career change.
We are in an incredible moment in history in terms of opportunities to make a contribution. If you’re not doing work that you enjoy or that is meaningful to you, ask yourself what is keeping you from that. If you think that your current circumstances are keeping you stuck, consider that it’s possible to get unstuck by changing your approach.
There is no one right path, but enjoyable, meaningful, and purposeful work is available to you now. When you know that, you’ll be much more willing to go out and find it.
P.S. If you’re having trouble figuring out which path to choose, schedule a free strategy call with me here. You’ll walk away with clarity and confidence about what to do next.